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Learning to pivot

We have this interesting idea that when we try to do something, and it doesn’t work, we just do it harder, usually over and over again, in the same way. And then we are surprised it still isn’t working!

This is one of my best examples of how I just did it harder, and surprise, it didn’t work out.

I was writing my final exam to become a certified carpenter. It’s a long exam, with funny questions and a lot of math. I don’t remember the question exactly, but in all math questions we could pick between using metric & imperial. Numbers and answers were provided in both.

I was so confident in my ability to solve this problem. I knew exactly what to do. I chose imperial and did my math. Very carefully, double checking what I input into the calculator every time.

My answer wasn’t there. I must have made a mistake along the way. No big deal, try again.

Still, I didn’t have the right answer.

Okay, something is fishy, my heart starts going quicker, I am getting nervous and flustered.

I know I am doing this right. Why isn’t it working?! I do it again. I get the same answers every time. I even do things backwards trying to catch my error, still nothing.

Exam time is running out, to heck with this question. I just pick an answer that I know is wrong, but I need to keep going.

After the exam we talked about our experience, and one of my class mates said: “Oh yeah, they didn’t give us the right answers in imperial. I just tried it in metric and it worked. The test people made a mistake.”


Wow, I sat there for a good 10 minutes, working this problem into the ground and never once thought to just use the different set of numbers that were provided. I didn’t even think to take the moment to “step back”, have a sip of water, stress eat a cookie, and look at it with fresh eyes. And then pivot, try something in a new & different way, rather than doing it the same way, just punching the numbers in the calculator harder than before.

I felt so silly after, and I think it was also a great teaching moment for me.

We all face this kind of thing all the time. It’s important that when we notice something isn’t working, to just pivot and find a different angle. Try something new. At some point, something will stick and it will work. (Or you might make the decision that whatever you are trying to do, to just not do anymore)

  • If something in your job isn’t working, brainstorm a different way of getting it done.

  • Trying to teach your dog a new trick and they just look at you dumbfounded? Google tricks on teaching tricks, ask a friend or dog trainer. (And probably get better cookies)

  • Your partner still couldn’t understand what you said even though you repeated the same words 3 times? Pick different words.

  • Your kids don’t like boiled veggies? Try roasting them, hide them in sauces & cakes (We just discovered parsnip cake – delicious, like carrot cate, it’s a revelation!)

You get where I am going with this. If something isn’t working in your life, step back and evaluate. Is it even something you want to do? Yes? Cool, then try doing it in a different way.

You’ve got this. We’ll all be pivoting masters before you know it, and we’ll crush this life thing, whatever that means to you!

Jani is a certified ICF & Martha Beck Life Coach, and offers a free discovery session for anyone who is ready to create their best life.

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